Wozniak, Musk, Hawking Among 1,000 Voices Urging Autonomous Weapons Ban

Written by David Michaelis

Steve Wozniak, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are among 1,000 scientists who’ve written a group letter urging a ban on all fully-autonomous weapons. Here’s what they had to stay. [news analysis/commentary]

aNewDomain commentary — Over 1,000 high-profile artificial intelligence experts and leading researchers signed an open letter warning of a “military artificial intelligence arms race” and calling for an all-out ban on “offensive autonomous weapons.” The letter, published this week by Future of Life Institute, was signed by such tech and AI experts as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Tesla’s Elon Musk Google DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis and University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking.

laputa robot autonomous weaponThe danger of autonomous weapons has become globally recognized due to the easy way one can build and misuse these weaponized AI systems.

In the letter the authors state:

“AI technology has reached a point where the deployment of (autonomous weapons) is – practically if not legally – feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

They emphasize the comparison of AI weapons to the easily acquired or made AK17:

“The endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow. The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting.”

I find it pretty hard not to agree that a global robotic arms race is virtually inevitable — unless some kind of ban is imposed on autonomous weapons. The United Nations is under pressure to ban fully autonomous drones, and it is examining now the global, legal and ethical issues of AI and weapon production.

The letter continues along those lines:

“Unlike nuclear weapons, (autonomous weapons) require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc.”

Human Control

The semantics involved in human control does allow for opposing voices on the issue. And weapons experts differ: Are killer robots independent killers completely outside of human control, or are they weapons being guided by humans?

campaign to stop killer robots autonomous weaponsThe US military is the the biggest investor in AI development. DARPA and some of the Israeli experts note that “even those who did choose to use the phrase ‘meaningful human control,’ had different understandings of its meaning.”

The Conversation reports:

“Some say this means ‘human control or oversight of each targeting action in real-time.’ Others argue ‘the preset by a human of certain limitations on the way a lethal autonomous system would operate, may also amount to meaningful human control.’ “

Are these new weapons more or less akin to driverless cars? Or should we consider them wholly new monsters that are already careening out of control?

Leaders in technology, physics and AI have spoken. Now I’d love to know what you think. Please email or leave a comment below.

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Images in order: Predator KAZ by KAZ Vorpal via Flickr; bw laputa robot by spinter cardigan via Flickr; Killer Robots by Global Panorama via Flickr